Featured Partner: The Rosetta Project :


Featured Partner: The Rosetta Project

Posted by guest on November 3rd, 2014

By: Laura Welcher

The Rosetta Project is a public collection of information on the world’s languages, as well as an exploration in very long-term archiving. The project was created by The Long Now Foundation, whose mission is to encourage long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.

Like the original Rosetta Stone used to decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs, the first goal of the Rosetta Project was to create a future artifact that could serve as the means to decode any information we leave for future generations in human language form. And, to fit the Long Now framework, the information would need to remain discoverable and accessible for millennia.

This is quite a challenge. In the digital era, we are still working on robust long-term solutions to archiving. Can we create records that outlast information written on acid-free paper, kept in cool, dry storage? Or marks baked into clay tablets? Or carvings on rocks? As one possible solution, the project came up with the Rosetta Disk – a thin nickel disk, 2.8 inches in diameter, that has over 13,000 microscopic pages of text on its surface.

The Rosetta Disk can be read like you would read a book, but you need to look through a microscope, since each page is only 400 nanometers across! The disk can withstand high heat and normal atmospheric conditions, it just needs to be protected from being scratched or bent. But with reasonable care it could last and be readable for thousands of years.


Thousands of pages of text are microscopically etched onto the disk.

There are several copies of the Rosetta Disk in private and public collections around the world, and one that is even out of this world! An early prototype of the Rosetta Disk was launched into space ten years ago with the Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency, and just this past August reached its destination comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The Rosetta Disk and craft will remain in orbit with that comet far into the future. Like the Voyager Disk before it, the Rosetta Disk will be out in space for future humans, or perhaps someone else to discover – and with it they might discover a little bit about our human culture of the 21st century.

You can explore the contents of the Rosetta Disk, as well as other resources in the Rosetta Collection here on the new Langscape site. Rosetta will continue to add new resources to the collection, including audio and video recordings, so check back often! Upcoming additions to Langscape include video recordings made as part of the Record-a-thon, a series of grass-roots community language archiving events designed by the Rosetta Project. During a Record-a-thon, groups of speakers gather and record each other having conversations and telling stories, and then learn how to archive their recordings in the Rosetta Project collection as part of the event.

The Rosetta Project collection is maintained by the Long Now Foundation, and through the generous support of Long Now donors and members. Archival hosting of the Rosetta Project collection is provided by the Internet Archive.